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Westin Long Beach workers reach unionization after two-year dispute

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Photos by Sebastian Echeverry | Signal Tribune
Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce and Westin Long Beach hotel employees announce that the employees have successfully unionized, during a press conference on Sept. 8. Hotel workers had struggled for unionization for over two years.

Westin Hotel employees announced that their fight for hotel unionization had come to a successful conclusion, during a press conference Sept. 8.

Unite Here Local 11, the labor union in charge of the Westin Long Beach union campaign, expressed their sense of relief, following a two-year struggle with previous hotel owners to come to an agreement to unionize.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce and a representative from the hotel’s new management agency— Highgate Hotels— stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the hotel workers and congratulated them for the accomplishment.

“There really are no words to express the happiness we feel,” said union member Francisco Abdul Estin in Spanish. “The primary motive here was to have representation for the workers, respect from the owners and to have benefits for the families that can barely cover those necessities.”

The struggle to unionize began in February 2015 with the hotel’s previous owner agency, Utah Retirement Systems. Many lawsuits ensued, amidst complaints by hotel employees over working conditions and pay.

The dispute did not stay in the confines of Southern California; instead, the battle to unionize reached Utah and the shores of Europe.

“We came to this point through protests, legations and trips to foreign countries,” Estin said. “I had the opportunity to travel to France to talk about the problems we had here. That really helped in terms of reaching this happy ending. We also went to Chicago. There have been a lot of events that benefitted the campaign.”

The national and international trips were attempts to help Unite Here Local 11 and Utah Retirement Systems reach an agreement.

“We spent two years struggling with the other company, and they didn’t want to give us any type of opportunity,” Estin said. “They wanted to wash their hands and leave without any protection for us.”

Representatives from Utah Retirement Systems agreed to sell the hotel grounds to Highgate Hotel last month.

“[The previous owners] were very kind,” said John Ault, the new managing director for Westin Long Beach. “In the hotel business, everyone is hospitable, so that last company was very gracious to us.”

During a press conference on Sept. 8, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia congratulates Westin Long Beach hotel workers for becoming unionized. He said the agreement benefitted the hotel workers and Long Beach residents.

Ault said hotel employees and Highgate Hotels share a common philosophy of family in the workplace.

“It didn’t matter if they wanted to unionize or did not want to unionize,” Ault said. “I’ve been doing this for 31 years now, and I noticed that the hotel has a big sense of family— no matter what side of the fence that you are on.”

The Southern Californian coast is a new market for Highgate Hotels, according to Ault. The company has hotels in New York, Austin, San Francisco, Waikiki and now Long Beach. Many of the hotels under the company’s management are union hotels.

“We have fantastic relationships,” Ault said. “It only made sense for us to come to Long Beach to unite everyone to be here.”

For the hotel workers, the picketers that rallied at the gates of the Westin have vanished for the time being, and instead, are in the process of negotiating over pay, benefits and working conditions at the Westin.

Mayor Garcia said the union resolution not only benefits hotel employees, but also the residents of Long Beach.

“Having talked to many of [the residents], they are really looking forward to today as well,” Garcia said during the press conference.

Though Long Beach hotel workers benefit from a living-wage initiative approved by Long Beach voters by more than 60 percent in 2013, many of those employees still struggle to cover basic expenses like health insurance. They also deal with high rates of work-related injuries, particularly in housekeeping, according to a press release from city officials.

Lorena Lopez, director for Unite Here Local 11, spoke with the Signal Tribune shortly after the press conference about her labor union’s success and future goals.

“We are still going to be in the city of Long Beach seeking justice,” she said. “Many workers still do not have the justice that these workers do.”

Francisco Abdul Estin, Unite Here Local 11 labor union member, stands with Westin Long Beach hotel workers and announces that their fight for hotel unionization had come to a successful conclusion, during a press conference on Sept. 8.

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Westin Long Beach workers reach unionization after two-year dispute